By Jose Maria Rodriguez
Las Palmas, Spain, Dec 13 (EFE).- Henry A. was so desperate to escape the violence and hunger blighting his existence in Nigeria that he has made the perilous migrant crossing from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands across the Atlantic Ocean twice.
On both of those occasions, the 42-year-old mechanic has clung to the exposed rudder of an oil tanker.
Two weeks ago, a photograph of Henry and two fellow stowaways perched on the rudder of the Norwegian-flagged Alithini II oil tanker as it arrived in Spain’s Gran Canaria from Lagos was widely circulated by the media. An hour after that image was taken, the father of one, who also provides for five brothers, was lying in a hospital bed with severe dehydration after 11 days at sea.
Henry featured in another photograph taken on October 6, 2020, in an astonishingly similar scene as he sat with two others on the rudder of the Champion Pula, also from Norway, as it pulled into port in Gran Canaria.
On that occasion, Henry and his companions were taken to Norway for processing following their discovery.
In an interview with Efe in Gran Canaria, Henry says he wants to escape the violence and hunger in his native Biafra, Nigeria.
“I tried (escaping) in 2020, but they sent me back in 2022, from Norway,” he tells Efe.
According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) 295,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring nations and another two million have been internally displaced.
“I have seen people die. I decided to (leave) to survive,” the Nigerian adds.
On the dawn of November 17, Henry asked a fisherman to take him to the Alithini II vessel so he could hide under the ship’s stern. Two younger men whom Henry did not know, spotted him and joined him.
Shortly after huddling together under the stern, the migrants accidentally dropped a bag with food and water supplies and a hammer that they had in case of an emergency into the sea.
“So we took the risk,” he says.
The three men barricaded themselves in a dark hollow with hardly any space and powered on.
The situation became desperate on the second day, with no drinking water. Henry showed his companions how to quench their thirst by wetting their lips with seawater.
“The three of us were exhausted. On the second day, I was about to give up. For my two companions, it was the first time, they had not traveled, they did not know how to survive,”
While they had some food, it was either useless without water or it made them even thirstier.
Long days and nights passed. The migrants slept as best they could but were always alert.
“If you fall asleep, forget yourself if you fall,” Henry adds.
“We spent the day praying, praying. We didn’t know where the ship was going, we just prayed that the ship would stop,” Henry says, repeating several times throughout the interview that it was God who rescued them.